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8 Reasons You Should Use Heat Instead of Ice

Updated: Feb 24

We have all heard that we “better ice that” whenever we have an injury or sore muscles. We never think about whether or not we should be using ice. It’s just the typical “go to” for most pain ailments. Doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, nurses, even mom will tell us to ice.

But, should we use ice?

Let’s start with how ice works. It freezes. Congeals. It stops movement. Think about gravy. It’s a wonderful warm addition to your turkey dinner, however, once it goes in the refrigerator, it becomes a jellied clump of goo. Now, think about how that process works in our bodies. Icing slows down the healing process. Contrary to what we have been told our whole life, ice is not the best method for treating injuries and muscle pain. Heat is.

Ice will stagnate blood in the injured area, which will only make the problem worse. It ultimately weakens the area by not allowing fresh blood and nutrients to flow to the injured area; which can then cause long-term pain, swelling, and increase the possibility of re-injuring the area. According to The Journal of Emergency Medicine, there is insufficient evidence that ice can help an injury at all. And, the medical journal, Sports Medicine, explains that ice causes a backup of lymph, which perfuses back into the area of the injury, causing more swelling and even slows down healing.

Ice is only a short term fix. It may offer the illusion of helping you since it numbs the area, thus reducing some of the pain. However, it actually prevents of the body’s normal cellular and vascular response to injuries. The body cannot heal the area, because it is being slowed down from the ice.

"When ice is applied to a body part for a prolonged period, nearby lymphatic vessels begin to dramatically increase their permeability (lymphatic vessels are ‘dead-end’ tubes which ordinarily help carry excess tissue fluids back into the cardiovascular system). As lymphatic permeability is enhanced, large amounts of fluid begin to pour from the lymphatics ‘in the wrong direction’ (into the injured area), increasing the amount of local swelling and pressure and potentially contributing to greater pain.” (The use of Cryotherapy in Sports Injuries,’ Sports Medicine, Vol. 3. pp. 398-414, 1986)

8 Reasons to use heat instead of ice:

  1. Aids in the body’s natural healing process.

  2. Relaxes the muscles.

  3. Ice prevents the proper development of new cells.

  4. Soothes stiff joints.

  5. Heat aids inflammatory cells in healing the injured tissue.

  6. Applying ice inhibits the release of IGF-1, a stimulator of cell growth, and a potent inhibitor of programmed cell death.

  7. Ice does not facilitate proper collagen alignment.

  8. External heat increases oxygen to the area, and help repair damaged the tissue.

The takeaway from this article is that ice should not be used to treat muscle pain and sport injuries. Heat is a better method that aids the bodies natural healing processes.

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